When I was in junior high, one of my siblings (I can't remember now which one...maybe my brother?) gifted me a Christian t-shirt just like the one shown down below - except mine was white. It was a favorite of mine! Just like in ancient Biblical times, its nuanced message was an effective way to discretely identify and connect with other believers, and to remind myself who I was and where I came from. This was very helpful to me at the time, because our family had just moved from a tiny and unassuming farming village in Upstate New York, to what seemed to me as a very wealthy, elite, and intimidating town in Connecticut. I was the clueless new fish in a very big ocean. The familiar Bible verse shown under the t-shirt image was written in small print, and usually went unnoticed. But most of my church-going peers immediately recognized the ichthus fish, and that's when I would get a friendly smile, a knowing look, or a casual, "Hey, I really like your t-shirt!" That transition as a 7th grader to a new school, new friends, and new environment (as a young Christian) was the first real test of my self-confidence and maturing identity. But the testing didn't stop there.
Somehow I made it through high school pretty much unscathed. There were a few lively incidents with mischievous older teen boys who, for one reason or another, targeted me fairly aggressively and made it their sole purpose to harass and embarrass me in very creative ways. (I'll have to share that series of stories in another post - - they are worth telling and quite entertaining, to say the least. It's gotta be good when the story involves law enforcement and loaded shot guns). But overall, I had an enjoyable and memorable high school experience, and graduated feeling like I had weathered the ups and downs reasonably well, remaining true to myself and my values.
Fast-forward to college. The message drilled into me by society at large and many of my peers was that the next five years of higher education would be marked by out-of-control frat parties, excessive alcohol consumption, sexual promiscuity, regular all-nighters, cafeteria-induced extra pounds, and plenty of skipped classes. While that might have been the norm for some, these activities couldn't have been more opposite to what I actually experienced as a college student. I guess I was a freak, because I did none of it. (Well, that's not true entirely. I did experience the Freshman 15 briefly). This is not to say that I didn't make huge mistakes or have significant struggles. I certainly did - namely nearly destroying myself with disordered eating and obsessive exercise as a way to cope with stress and overwhelm. But the other stuff was never really a temptation or even a consideration, because it was so foreign to who I was and how I was raised. Now entering my early 20s, I was becoming pretty comfortable swimming against the flow, and getting stronger.
From college, on to adulthood and my first real career...teaching! That lasted 8 years, and I loved it...until I didn't.
When I left the elementary school classroom in 2004 to pursue a totally different career in the government contracting world, my new employer flew me out to DFW for a few days of training at corporate headquarters. While I was expecting a very professional, organized, and confidence-building welcome and orientation (this was a big outfit!), the experience turned out to be one of the most chaotic, unsettling trial-by-fires I have ever had the misfortune to endure. On Day 1, I met the two women who were to serve as my mentors. They were about my age - maybe a little older, outgoing, helpful, and found lots to laugh about. But it seemed we never worked for more than an hour before they dropped everything to take a smoke break. This happened repeatedly from one day to the next. They quickly realized I did not share the habit, and their teasing is something I will never forget. "You just wait, Amy. You can't work here long and not become a smoker. The environment is too stressful and you will start lighting up, just to survive. Mark our words - you'll be just like us!"
How's that for a "Welcome Aboard?!"
Well, they were 50% correct...I didn't last long at that job. It only took two years before the toxic atmosphere stressed me out so badly that I quit with 2 weeks' notice and had not a job in sight to transition into when I left. It was legitimately traumatizing. I didn't think I'd ever work for anyone again after that experience (I was wrong - and unfortunately it got even worse with the next job), but at least I left that position with my dignity, self-respect, AND the cute contractor with the beautiful handwriting who eventually became my husband. I never did become a smoker during those two years, and never even considered it for a second. That habit simply didn't align with who I was or who I wanted to be. I was following a different path.
The point of all this?
I share these snapshots into my past because they point to a common human behavior that really irritates me. And that is this - projecting a negative fateful outcome onto someone - even ourselves - who otherwise has a blank slate of goodness, success, wellness, and possibility.
"Your grandmother was diabetic, Dad and I are diabetic, and so you should just get used to the fact that this runs in our family and will be your destiny, too."
"Obesity is a genetic condition, a brain disease, and cannot be avoided. You are a victim, and there is no hope for you other than surgery or medication."
"I'm so scared of getting cancer because everyone in my family seems to get it."
Um....NO. Just NO. Not today, Satan.
No one gets to decide the future before you except God, and YOU. No one can predetermine your destiny with a chronic disease unless you give them that power and abdicate your own responsibility and daily decision-making. It's not really that [pick your chronic dietary/lifestyle disease du jour] gets passed down through our DNA, but that bad habits and behaviors are repeatedly modeled and emulated from one generation to the next.
"We become what we repeatedly do."
And we get to choose.
Isn't that good news?!
My parents ate cereal, and gave us cereal. Now my kids eat cereal. It's American.
Boxed mac and cheese and processed chicken nuggets is fun! easy! yummy! and part of a happy childhood.
My mom coped with food. I cope with food. Now my own young adult does the same.
It's not a party without soda and chips! Who celebrates without lots of alcohol?
My grandparents showed love with sugary treats, my parents did the same, and now I show love with sugary treats, too.
It really doesn't matter what I feed them as long as I feed them.
Taking multiple pharmaceutical drugs on a regular basis is a normal and necessary part of life.
Accumulating fat and a laundry list of medical diagnoses is just what happens as we age.
Kids are supposed to be picky eaters! Obviously they need kids' menus!
Intentionally abstaining from damaging junk foods is puritanical and lame. Live a little! Embrace your "freedom"!
All things in moderation!
These are the habits and beliefs that rule modern society, and they are destroying us. Look around and you'll see an ocean of "dead fish" being pushed along by the wave of this insidious kind of group think; individuals too frightened, deceived, or numbed to think logically for themselves. Individuals beholden to plastic boxes stuffed with a chemical cocktail of pharmaceutical drugs, regularly scheduled doctor visits, repeated vaccinations and booster shots, XXL clothing, and constant fear, depression, crash dieting, and pain.
But it doesn't have to be this way. We can choose to live with a sense of radical responsibility, self-control, and agency. We can choose to rebel against societal norms, educate ourselves, and go against the flow. We can be different. May God grant us the power and tenacity to do just that, and may our kids follow our lead.
Romans 12:2 New Living Translation - Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.